The Saabiest Saab??

I’m not normally into recycling entries, but as this one is one of the first 15 or so done on this blog, originally written 25 Feb 2005, it wouldn’t have been seen by that many people.  Given that the traffic to this site has increased tenfold since those early days (there’s got to be at least ten of you out there now!) I thought it was worthwhile getting the opinions of a few more Saabfolk.

In the interest of keeping the entry’s own integrity, I’ve resited the temptation to add the Viggen in amongst these candidates.  Stuff integrity for a joke – the Viggen’s now in!!

Of course, you can write your own suggestion in comments.


OK, here’s a question.  Which Saab is the Saabiest?  Which one most typifies the essence of the marque?  Innovation, safety, sport, design.  All these things are typical of many Saab models, but which one exhibits them the most?

Here’s my contenders:


The 750 Grantourismo
The 750 Grantourismo was released in 1958 as a variant of the 96.  A lot of vehicle manufacturers had felt the pressure to release a ‘sportier’ version of their current lineup.  Saab’s sales had bouyed due to their rally success, so the 750 Grantourismo became Saab’s first sports model.

It was 20% quicker than its little brother due to higher a compression ratio.  It was still an inline 3 cylinder of only 750cc, but had a fair bit of poke for a little engine.  Initially released with a 3-speed box, a 4-speed became available in 1960. 

The equipment level was impressive for the time too.  Standard seat belts, cloth interior, tachometer and windsheild washers.

The 750 GT remains a favourite among those that drove it and was part of Saab’s sporting pedigree.

The 99 Turbo
The 99 Turbo was, at the time, Saab’s biggest innovation ever.  BMW had tried a turbo 2002 in the early 1970’s, but high pressures tended to blow the turbos and made the vehicle untenable as a production option.

Saab used a lower pressure turbo that accented performance in the lower rev ranges and this led to exhilarating performance that you’d never know was coming from an engine of only 2 litres displacement. 

The 99 Turbo became the first turbocharged car to win a WRC rally.  It was driven most successfully by Stig Blomqvist.

I owned one of these myself until recently, so you know where my vote’s going!!

The aggressive stance, comfortable, well-appointed interior and sticky handling all won over a new breed of fan for Saab and the turbo revolution was one of the factors that kept Saab afloat through the 80’s, along with our next contender.

The 900 (and 9-3) Convertible

The primary inspiration for the convertible came from America.  As with any vehicle manufacturer, the US market is an important one to crack, and Saab gave itself another lease of life when it developed the 900 convertible in 1986.  Saab was already steadily growing in popularity through the 80’s.  There was a period from 1982 where the brand enjoyed 60 straight months of sales growth, no doubt helped in the latter stages by the 900 convertible.

The 900 convertible became one of Saab’s most memorable images of the 1980’s and 90’s.  As well as being turbos and therefore performing as well (if not better) than a lot of other drop-tops, they were also (comparatively) very affordable.

The convertible has remained a part of the Saab range even up to today and is still a strong seller.  I was fortunate enough to have a 9-3 Convertible for a couple of days last year and it was a superb drive.


Saab 900 Turbo 16 S
The 1993 variant of the Saab 900 Turbo 16 S was the one with all the bells and whistles attached.  As it was the last year of the Classic 900, Saab decided to empty the parts bin. 

Full Aero (SPG) body kits, combination suede/leather trim, high output 16 valve turbo engines, cruise, power everything.  You name it and the Turbo S got it. 

The Classic 900 had to figure in this story somehow or another, and there was no better example of it than 1993’s Turbo 16 S.


The 9-7x
OK, yeah.  I’m kidding.



OK – a few late additions for y’all to think about….


The 9000 Aero

Famous for having a 50-75mph time quicker than a Ferrari Testarossa.  Even more famous amongst people that have driven them for having perhaps the most comfortable seats ever put into a motor car.  The 9000 as a range is a fantastic group of tourers.  The Aero, first released in MY97 took this great cruiser to another level altogether.

Superbly equipped, deceptively fast, supremely comfortable and with cavernous storage, this would possibly go down with the 9-5 as one of the most underappreciated Saabs of the modern era.

Value for money – on a stick.


The 9-3 Viggen

This wasn’t in the original post, but how can I have this post stand for posterity without it?  Call me biased if you will, but I’ve just GOT to include this car now that I’ve had the chance to own and drive one for a while.  

The Viggen was Saab’s most recent full-loader (aside, perhaps, from the 9-5 Hirsch vehicles).  Saab gave this one the full treatment both under the hood, on the body and inside the cabin.  The car received all the agro gear to differentiate it from the 9-3 crowd, but still managed to keep it well mannered with just a hint of "don’t mess with me" thrown in. 

If there’s something that was missed in the road tests published about the Viggen, it’s the great road sense and mild manners of this car under normal conditions.  When you need some poke it’s there in spades, but this is one of the most pleasurable road cars I’ve had the good fortune to drive, let alone own.


The 2005 9-5 Aero

I’m going to include this as a tribute.  Whilst I don’t mind the new 9-5, I don’t have the love for it that I have for this outgoing model.  The essence of understatement.  If you’ve got a 2005 model then I’d advise you service it regularly, drive it sparingly and enjoy it until your ageing eyes won’t let you see the road ahead anymore.  They are that classy, and based broadly on the original pre-GM model, I think this’ll go down as a pretty significant model in Saab’s history, once history has been given the time to write itself.

No matter whether it’s in sedan or wagon form, the 9-5 Aero is a truly elegant, firebreathing beast. 

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  1. I’m assuming that you’re referring to the 9-7x pictured last in the article, and if so then the answer would have to be ‘Yes’. I included it for irony’s sake. It’s the most un-Saab like vehicle ever to wear the badge.

  2. These are good picks. I think the 9-5 deserves mention on this list, it was *the* first car with active head restraints as well as air conditioned seats — both of these have now become standard fare for the luxury market. It was the first Saab with electronic throttle and the latest Trionic system can actually adjust the fuel injectors mid-injection. The DI cassette causes the spark plugs to fire several times after you stop the engine to help reduce carbon buildup. With SAHR, seatbelt pretensioners , side airbags, 14 crumple zones, 5×3 point safety belts, LATCH, ABS, TCS or ESP, among others safety items it’s dang safe, the Aero model has got one of Saab’s most powerful engines ever, and it’s full of under-appreciated design features like a clamshell hood and a sissor-arm trunk.

    Also, in traditional Saab style, it’s vastly under appreciated, yet nearly everybody who has one loves it.

  3. I know this is late, but I grew up riding around in a SAAB 900 (1982), and boy did I love it. Even if it was the base model with no extras. A fine car (although my mother wore out the clutch after only 50,000 miles, this is no fault of the car, I assure you.)

  4. Adam, I think that overall, the 900 would have to be the consensus car chosen. At least it’s the first thing most people would think of when asked to think of a Saab.

  5. Deffo the 900. No other car, I swear, has appeared in so many movies and advertisements. Definitely the definitive Saab.

  6. The 900 has got to be it. When people think of Saabs, and especially the ugly Saabs (Ugly is subjective, mind you, and we’re talking about the people who think Saabs are ugly) of the 80’s and early 90’s, they’re thinking of the 900.

  7. I fully concur in having the Viggen. No doubt that the shape and style of the sedan was unique and sought after. This applies to the last series of Aeros of the 9-3 hatch. What a pity they don’t make this car anymore !!!

  8. I agree with Ryan. I think the 9-5 is most striking out of all underestimated cars i’ve seen. I was especially impressed when I first learned that the spark plugs ignite couple times after to reduce build-up. Do any other cars have this today?

    About the Viggen, I think that should have been a “must” in this comparison! It’s the modern day version of the 900 SPG! I am looking to upgrade from my 86 900s to an unmolested SPG. Then, I will move on to overtaking my neighbors Viggen :). I catch myself staring at his car. Congrats again, Swade. Im very jealous.

    As for the Saabiest Saab, my friend and I have agreed that the 900 hatch alone is the best pick. Putting the Turbo 16 s in there is just overkill :). Tally two more votes for the 900.

  9. If you ask my wife, (who has little interest in cars), what a Saab looks like she’d point to a Classic 900. Myself, the first time i thought wow! i want a Saab was a 9000 but i’d pick a Classic 900 as the car that most resembles a Saab.

  10. I own both a Classic 900S Convertible and a 9000FPT. Even though the 9000 is a much nicer car and WAY more powerfull, I much prefer the 900. I only wish that it was a hard top (a Turbo would be nice too).

    The classic 900 gets my vote.

  11. My vote goes to the 99 turbo.It established all the hallmarks and design cues that people take for granted in later model saab’s.

  12. Ok folks, lets all vote for the classic 900 and leave it at that then…
    (I’ve got one too!)

    But what about the 750 GT? Surely that is a Sixten Sason Saab moment epitomised.

    The 750 GT reeks of Mellde, Ljungstrom and Sason -tinkering away.

    The 9000 is great but is was a Fiat-Saab- an Agnelli-Wallenburg special -good but not a pure saab surely?

    And modern Saabs? A bright blue 9-3 Viggen of course.
    Or a 9-5 Aero Hot, in black with massive alloys.

    Swade, you best decide, as its obvious we can’t…

  13. My cars demonstrate my bias. An early B motor (1973) 99, a 1979 99T, a couple of early 9000T’s and 900T’s from 1986 (Aero) and 1993. Without wishing to offend other owners of early 99’s my 73MY is my ‘grandad’ car. Love it, but the introduction of the 99 Turbo changed all that. Can you now buy a real Saab that is not a turbo? The 9000’s do everything better than 99’s or 900’s but still don’t cut it. The 900’s were a stretched 99 starting with the same mechanicals. So, I’m with Simon – the 99 turbo is the saabiest Saab as it represents the transition from old to new.

  14. I’m voting the 99 Turbo, the 900 Turbo is just a refined 99 Turbo.

    My list isn’t too different:
    – 99 Turbo
    – 1985 900 Aero/SPG
    – ‘Classic’ 900 Convertible
    – 9-3 Viggen
    – 9-5 Aero HOT

  15. I’ve owned 6 differet model Saabs in my lifetime going back to the 99 and am currently driving a 9-5 (a wonderful car!) but my vote goes for the 900 convertible. Of all the Saabs that people see, the classic 900 convertible is the one that still turns people’s heads. It drives like a Saab, it sounds like a Saab, and it looks like a Saab inside and out. They hold their value well, they are practically bullet-proof in terms of overall durability, and there is no more fun than top down cruising in summer behind the wheel.
    But oh, so many good choices….

  16. The Saabiest Saab has got to have a 2-cycle engine! Especially after reading Mr. Saab.
    The 750 Grantourismo should be in a hall of fame somewhere.

  17. I sat down to answer this post earlier in the evening…… some fours hours later, however, I’m still attempting to accurately define ‘Saabiness’. Drawing inspiration from a recently-acquired Hall & Oates CD, I’m wondering where to start! Well…..

    The 96 – where Saabiness a measure measure of design…. and maybe even Sport, if a 2-stroke could ever be deined as sporty! Probably more radical than revolutionary, but undoubtedly where the ‘Form and Function’ concept began. Even though it won the Monte Carlo Rally, a Mercedes Benz from the same year would have been a more innovative and better built car.

    The 99T – where Saabiness is a measure of innovation. Certainly revolutionary in terms of its turbo, front-drive concept, and in terms of its acceleration and handling capabilities. Body style was certainly a stand-out, like nothing else offered previously. Unmatched by similar European manufacturers of the era.

    900T16S – where Saabiness is a measure of safety. The 900 was basically a 99 with a bunch of safety features added. The extra weight made the cars slower than their forebears, but the added luxuries certainly made driving them more comfortable… and thank God for the power steering! My 16S is probably my personal favourite, along with most of the others here, but I find that it’s all about familiarity. That is, everyone instantly recognises a 900 as a Saab because there were just so many of the damn things manufactured that they’re everywhere – far more abundant than the 96 and 99 models.

    The cabrio. Cutting the roof off a 900 was neither sporty, innovative or overly safe…. but it sold well. As for the later GM offerings……

    The 9000. Are you joking?…. sheesh!!!!

    The Viggen. The bestest, most fantabulous, wonderfullest Saab ever made. Ever! [Drew fears being banned from this site if he says otherwise]

    The 2005 9-5 Aero. Where Saabiness is defined as….. errrrrr………what was the question again?


  18. Pity I can’t go back and edit the above post to fix the multiple grammatical errors I’ve just noticed. Bloody oath! Still, it’s 12:35am and Hall and Oates is still playing “Outta Touch”…. how apt!


  19. The 9-5 Aero is probably the best Saab ever built, and the saabiest of the aero fives are the early models that had all the neat Saab touches. So I vote for the 00/01 9-5 Aero with the three spoke wheels.

  20. Under this topic I am posting a sad note. I think we have seen the best days fo SAAB for a few years. I now own a 1994 900S and 1997 9000CSE and need to buy a new vehicle. I have waited for a year to see the Sportcombi and new 9-5. Drove both on the weekend and I think I will have to stick with my 9000 or buy and Audi or BMW. I wanted to love the 9-3 Sportcombi since I have 2 small children. As my wife said, the “idea” of the car was fabulous, but the reality was something else. It literally reminded me of a Pontiac Grandam I drove recently as a rental. Nicer interior and much nicer look, but the quality was not there (road noise high and I felt like I was fighting to keep it stable rather than the effortless handing of my 9000. Do you doubt me ? Then jump in an Audi A4 2.0 for similar price and take a spin. Not even in the same class! The 9-5 is definately better than last year’s (non-Aero versions), but now light years behind a BMW or Audi or Acura. GM may have ruined SAAB by focussing too much on cost reduction, and too little on value creation. I am very sad to say I may have to move away from SAAB after 12 years of being a raving fan… is a “sad day” for me….

  21. Richard,

    Have you tried the Aero SportCombi? I test drove one of those at the owners’ convention in Vermont, and I was truly impressed. Gobs and Gobs of torque, and I thought the handling was excellent. Perhaps the one you drove was out of spec, or something, but the SportCombi is getting rave reviews.

    My vote is the 99 turbo. I own three of the cars on the list ( a 900 T convertible, a 99 Turbo, and a 2000 9-5 Aero ) so that makes me feel warm and fuzzy.

    I think the 99 turbo hits on the innovation, fun to drive, and design cues that Saab is known for.

  22. I can say for sure that the 9000 is _not_ the Saabiest Saab, even if it is a great and underappreciated car. The ignition switch is on the steering column, not between the seats. The C-pillar completely lacks the trademark Saab swoosh or hockey stick look (or whatever you call it). It’s just too similar to its platform mates, the Lancia Thema and Fiat Croma. That said, I’m split between the 900 and the 9-5 (pre-2006, of course). BTW, the possessive form of “it” is written “its” and does not have an apostrophe in it.

    SW – my apologies about the apostrophe. As my wife’s an occasional grammar teacher I do try under the threat of a good flogging, but some still manage to slip through. As do other errors, but that’s life huh?

  23. 900T16 3 door, obviously 😉
    Not only is it the most reconisable of all Saabs, it is the most recognisable Saab to the average punter. No one can confuse it for anything else.

    Unique styling, comfort and safety, great engine, crap gearbox… the quinessential Saab!

    Would rate a 96 Monte Carlo second for being the epitome of Saab’s original aeronautical-based design and concept. 9-3 Viggen comes a close third, for being the best post-900 Aero incarnation of the 900 Aero…

    … that and I want a drive, Steve! 😉

    Cheers, Ben.

  24. I am with “Aeronaut”, the 01 9-5 Aero has to be in this unique class. This has to be one of the best and classiest Saabs ever built. What a Car !!!

  25. “Evolutionary principles are not exclusive to the natural world”(Made in Trollhättan, 2001)

    Sixten Sason and Björn Envalls’ prodigy the 99 and 900 typify this (as perhaps do the early 9-5 Aeros ref. “Aeronaut”). Like the best and most endearing machines, the 99 and 900 also have features that give them a face, and, what with all the tripe about ‘ugliness’ I suppose they have that most human of all traits -a ‘flaw’.

    Add to this the inherent pride and values of Sweden and her people, and you instantly have the ‘Saabiest’ of SAABs!

    Posthumously, Dr.Ing.h.c.Ferdinand Porsche and Mr Soichiro Honda-San would probably have acknowledged this too.

    Go Sweden Go! Go SAAB Go!

  26. So, 99 it is then. The ultimate 99 being a 99 Turbo. Anyway, how can the saabiest Saab have been built under GM rule?

    Never thought I’d get a drive of the Vigg anyway!

  27. Ben, rides in the Viggen come easy. Drives of the Viggen – well lets just say it’d be easier to date my mother. See you at the detailing session huh?

    Brendan, I’m retaining my vote for the 99T, despite the Viggen, but quoting your own ext/int setup (even if it the coolest setup available) doesn’t do credit to your objectivity. *Homer Simpson voice* Mmmmmmm Black 99 Turrrrboooooo

  28. The Classic 900 does it for me. The 99 is such a close second that I’m not sure that I can truly call it a ‘second’ place entry. More like 1 and 1a.

    The 90 is another great example, but not many were made.

  29. IF, a 900 were to be the saabiest Saab, surely it would be a 900 Carlsson. Although only sold in the UK it had all the good bits plus had the name of The Man.

  30. I recognize that the 99 turbo is the basis that originated the 900 turbo, but the innovations that were made in the production of the 900 (interiors included), made it unique in character and instantly recognized by anyone in the street; so, i must vote in the 900.

  31. Can’t see how any saab post 1994 ..other then the 9000 can be a SAAB using a Vauxhall Cavalier/vectra platform..but I suspect the younger members vote for the later cars..Perhaps it is a good some ways as the name carries on until GM sell it as a turkey and a decent owner turns up, don’t bank on it the Chinese now own MG

    My vote, whilst I have the greatest respect for the earlier cars is for the classic 900. It is love it or loathe it, but is packed with SAAB only features..little flipin the roof for the sunroof, thin but long, incredible boot, mirror switches, front mounted gearbox etc . The shape well i defy you to find anyone over 20 , car fan or not, who can’t be asked to name it..You can’t say that of the newer vehicles, the 9-3 sport now has a vectra engine in EVERY model, the 9-5 won’t be far behind, suspension is vectra, you are left with a mask and one that is made from very thin metal at that

    By the way they only made a million cars across 14 years across the globe..that is hardly “so damn many of them” though I appreciate it is a few more than earlier production though the same can be said of most manufacturers

    900 turbo 16s

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